Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is online weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up below to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon, everyone. I look forward to your questions.
Q. Hurt: My mother-in-law called my husband this evening and told us that his stepsister-in-law was going into premature induced labor at 34 weeks because something is wrong with the baby’s heart. We aren’t super close to the couple, but we were nonetheless scared and devastated for them and their other young child. Well, we received another text that simply said the baby was here and they didn’t know anything more than her name. For the purposes of this query let’s call her “Alexandra.” Well, exactly eight months ago I had a baby that we named “Alex.” My husband and I are hurt and offended. Even if they call her Alexandra, other people, friends, family, will call her Alex. They essentially gave their child the same name as ours and we cannot say anything because the baby is sick. It’s so hurtful, and it’s a hurt we cannot even express. If the baby pulls through, and I certainly hope she does, I never want to see them again. What do we do?
A: Here is a basic fact: You don’t own the rights to “Alex” or “Alexandra” or any other name. If you wanted your child to have a name that’s almost unheard of, you could have gotten a copy of the Book of Wacky Celebrity Kid Names and chosen from that. Try to think about what’s actually going on here. A baby has arrived who’s the child of people you love. This baby is in medical distress. And you are planning to throw a permanent hissy fit because their child has a name similar to your child’s. Please tell me you are suffering from some kind of temporary derangement, and you are now coming to your senses. Because what you do now is to never, ever repeat the sentiments you put in this letter. Even if you have to put on an act—for the rest of your lives!—you pretend to be decent people. You welcome little Alexandra with joy, and you offer your help to her suffering parents (by bringing meals, looking after the toddler, etc.) however you can.
Q. Update From the Bride Re: Maid of Honor Toast: I’m the bride from last week who wrote in about my maid of honor being afraid to give a toast alone at the reception. Thanks so much for taking the time to respond to my letter. I just want to give an update that, by the time your response was posted, my MOH and I had talked to a couple of other bridesmaids about this and worked it out so that she won’t be giving a toast alone. I realized pretty quickly how uncharitable my demands were (I too suffer from an anxiety disorder) and how little two or three minutes of the reception really matter. In the end, I really just want everyone to have a ridiculously good time at what is supposed to be a big party. I suggest other brides take a deep breath, go for a run, and then decide whether the “problem” that’s currently stressing them out is going to matter in five, 10, 20 years (or even in the next 20 minutes).
A: Thanks for this update. I was pretty tough on you (but gentle compared with the commenters!), so good for you for realizing your demands on your anxious maid of honor were unreasonable. Your advice that brides who are trying to enforce a vision of what they want should just instead chill out, take a break, and get some perspective is excellent and applies not only to one’s nuptials.
Q. Bothered by a Dream: When I was pregnant, I had a horribly vivid dream of my younger brother sexually assaulting a child. It made me so upset then and has stayed with me all this time. My child is now a toddler, and I do not believe that my brother would do this to my or any child. But lately I find myself thinking about the dream and worried about leaving him alone with my kid. My brother is known to fib about things to make him look good, and he’s always been evasive when it come to relationships, but he’s really great with kids and they tend to adore him, like my own does. Can you please tell me that I am absolutely being ridiculous!?
A: Ever had a dream that you could fly? What about one where you were being eaten by dinosaurs? The dream in which you show up to class naked? You know none of those are true. I realize that in the Bible people take dreams as prophesies, but in real life, when you wake up from a nightmare, it’s best to shake it off with relief and be grateful it isn’t true. Your brother sometimes fibs and apparently doesn’t have a girlfriend. I’m afraid combining that with your dream fails in any way to raise any alarm that he’s a child molester. You have been dwelling on this for more than a year. That means not that there’s something wrong with your brother but that there’s something wrong with you. You need to mentally encase this dream in a lead safe and drop it to the bottom of the sea.
Q. Re: Little “Alex”: In my family, there are no less than four people named Alex, all born within 10 years. No one threw a fit about it. We call them Big Alex, Little Alex, Tall Alex, etc. I fail to see how this is an issue.
A: Emily used to be a rare name, then a signal went out and everyone in America named their daughters Emily. I demand they all become Alex! Actually, I came to embrace being “Big Emily” although the Emily thing has gone on for so long that most of the “Little Emilys” are now bigger than I am. Agreed this is a nonissue.
Q. Slight BO: My partner and I live in a city where the weather generally doesn’t get too warm so it never fazed me that he prefers not to wear antiperspirant. However, we recently traveled to a much warmer climate to visit some of my family and I noticed that he has really strong body odor (even though he has impeccable hygiene). A relative of mine made a comment to me in private, and I’m a bit embarrassed. I’m not sure how to mention to him that next time we head that way, he should consider wearing something—or do I just inform my relative that they’ll have to mind their distance next time? Help!
A: I love that you think that as long as your beloved is kept chilled he won’t have body odor. Most people who don’t use antiperspirant have body odor. Different societies have different attitudes about this, but I’m assuming you live in the United States, so it’s just part of normal grooming to keep your armpits from announcing your arrival ahead of you. You mention this by saying, “Sweetheart, you need to use deodorant.”
Q. Still in Love With the One That Got Away: Five years ago I broke up with the woman I should have married. “Jen” was the perfect woman, but I wasn’t ready to settle down and ended up having to move across the country for work. Jen wanted to move with me, but I didn’t want to drag her along when I wasn’t sure about the future of our relationship. Now I am engaged to be married to “Amy,” but I found out through mutual friends that Jen has moved to my city. With Amy’s knowledge, I reached out to Jen and had dinner, and Prudie, it was as if we never broke up. Now I’m having doubts about going through the wedding with Amy. What do I do? I never brought up anything romantic with Jen and I don’t want to break up my engagement if there’s nothing there. But is that callous? Should I end things with Amy because I’m having doubts? I thought I loved Amy, but now I’m not so sure.
A: Jen is the perfect woman because she’s not the woman you’re actually marrying. Amy sounds pretty cool. Lots of people would have been uneasy about the prospect of their fiancé having dinner with the previous love. And how you have rewarded Amy’s trust by realizing Jen is better! So let’s say you break up with Amy and get back together with Jen. What do you want to bet that all over again you’ll be realizing you’re with the wrong person. You don’t get to secretly explore things with Jen just to see if you’re making the right choice with Amy. If you don’t want to marry Amy, end it. If you’re just one those people who’s never satisfied, grow up.
Q. Re: Alex: So glad last week’s bride wrote in about her newfound sense of perspective, because Alex’s Mommy is BADLY in need of this lesson.
A: So true. Let’s hope Alex’s Mommy comes to her senses before she behaves in an unforgivable way.
Q. Re: Dreams: For three years I had a dream where my husband (who I love and adore) would inform me that we would only be friends from now on and he would introduce me to his new girlfriend, and I would wake up feeling heartbroken. Then one day he sat me down to tell me he had an affair with a woman he worked with, they had broken it off, and her husband found out and called to say, “Tell your wife or quit your job.” We’ve stayed together—it’s been almost seven years since I found out, and I haven’t had the dream since.
A: No question that sometimes dreams help us put together things we are seeing in real life but don’t want to recognize. You must have been picking up clues that something was off with your husband. But most of the time our dreams aren’t filling us in on what’s really going on, they’re just Technicolor extravaganzas about what’s not really going on. (Although that flying dream of mine was spectacular.)
Q. My Husband Doesn’t Care About Our Stillborn Baby: I had a stillborn baby at 28 weeks. My husband flew back from his business trip urgently to be there when I delivered the baby, but afterward didn’t want to have anything to do with our child at all. He thought it was macabre to have footprints taken of our baby when he came out. We had a photographer who came to take pictures, and he refused to be in them, only commenting it was weird to take photos of a dead baby. He is an inherently sensitive, caring person, and I have no idea why he was behaving like this at the moment when I needed his support and involvement the most. I am still very bitter about desperately trying to persuade him to pose for just one family shot of us only moments after I had given “birth” when I was already highly emotional. Now he doesn’t want to talk about our child or look at the only mementos I have of him. I am almost as devastated by his callous response as I am about the actual loss. How do I forgive him for this?
A: I’m so sorry for your loss. I understand that your husband is behaving terribly insensitively toward you. But consider that he, too, is torn up with grief, and for him posing with your stillborn child and looking at mementos of a baby who died seem like agony. You two have been through a terrible loss, and it will be compounded if your reactions to it tear you two apart. You need help. First of all, I recommend contacting the organization, Share Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support. Just talking to other parents who have been through this will help you. I’m sure others have had such divergent responses as you and your husband, and this support group can help you two figure out a way to talk this out, open up, and reconnect. If that doesn’t do it, you and your husband need to see a counselor, one who has experience in grief.